Spring on the York College campus

Graham Innovation Scholars

By Annelise Vlacich '16
Designing Extraordinary Lives
YC Magazine covers the Graham Scholars program at York College. Here, students present ideas for improving Central Market.
Graham Scholar students present ideas for improving Central Market in downtown York City.

What does it take to be extraordinary? Twenty-two students participating in York College's new Graham Innovation Scholars program will discover some answers to this question as the academic year unfolds. Funded by a generous gift from Donald Graham and the Graham Foundation, the program has been designed to spur skills of innovation, teamwork, and entrepreneurial thinking.

It was developed and is being directed by Dominic DelliCarpini, Ph.D., Dean of the Center for Community Engagement, who said that the program is committed to "designing extraordinary lives by enhancing students' educational experiences and helping them tailor these to fit their goals." While the focus is on student development, there is also an opportunity to generate innovative methods of instruction through the use of data collected during the program.

DelliCarpini believes that the benefits of becoming a Graham Scholar are innumerable and said that participation in the program offers students the opportunity to enrich their education as well as their personal and professional relationships.

Some key benefits include:

Working with a highly motivated group of students. To be a Graham Scholar is to be a part of a team. Following their college paths together, these students are constantly growing, building upon each other's ideas to achieve success.

Modifying or designing a rich educational experience. The program allows students to customize their educational experience in a way that supports their specific goals.

Studying away or abroad. Through generous funding support, Graham Innovation Scholars will plan and execute a trip that is directly related to their learning goals. Traveling in groups, this trip experience will allow further group bonding and help the Scholars deepen their intercultural knowledge.

Learning business skills for productivity and success. No matter what profession the Scholars aspire to, they will learn skills such as leadership, marketing, and management, which are essential for turning ideas into action.

Receiving guidance from Community Business Mentors. Graham Scholars will benefit from mentoring by leaders and entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. Mentors will be available based on the interests and goals of each Scholar.

Engaging in paid summer research or community projects. During the summer, qualifying Scholars will have the opportunity to engage in research activities with established experts. The opportunities range from field and lab work to research projects conducted with business leaders.

Attending events with local and national experts. Graham Scholar events are held regularly. As professional networking opportunities, they present shadowing and mentoring experiences and can lead to internships and job offers.

Approximately 20 students will be admitted into the Graham Scholars program each year. These students participate, learn, and grow in the program throughout their time as YCP students. As freshmen, they begin their experience in the First-Year Seminar (FYS) course titled Entrepreneurial Thinking. They then follow the curriculum that they design for the remainder of their stay.

The Graham Scholars program has already attracted many motivated, involved students who seek to challenge themselves throughout their college years. Applicants such as Ben Hinkel '19 (Ashland, PA) gained an interest in the program because it closely matched a long-standing enthusiasm for learning by doing. Hinkel said, "I had always been very involved in my high school between various clubs, honor societies, and sports. I wanted to continue to be involved and push myself to be the best I could be in college and beyond." Other students credited their interest to the community-focused nature of the program. One such student, Nathan Cooper '18 (Bear, DE) said, "I was enticed when I learned that scholars would get to start up community projects and work with people both inside and outside of campus."

Upon getting accepted to the program, the Graham Scholars felt immense pride and a strong sense of opportunity. Cathy Cooper '19 (Coatesville, PA) expressed her initial reaction to learning of her acceptance, saying, "Acceptance into this program was one of my greatest honors that I will always cherish. I felt privileged to be a part of such a prestigious and self-developmental program. I knew that my acceptance meant that I should embrace the challenge of removing the creative block from my mind and replacing it with creative confidence."

In their FYS course, Graham Scholars learn about human-centered design or "design thinking," an innovation technique developed by the founder of the Stanford d-school, David Kelley. The FYS is led by Stanford MBA, Erin Casey, and helps students to gain the creative confidence as a first-year student to take on a real community project with York's Central Market. This encourages students to accept every idea as a valid suggestion. Cathy Cooper said, "Design thinking teaches me to always be open-minded and flourish every idea instead of completely eliminating it." It shows the students how to keep consumers in mind while designing and implementing their ideas. Their project in Central Market helped them to develop plans and put them to the test, while also learning to accept negative feedback toward improving their plans. They learn to accept that failure is a necessary part of the learning and innovation processes, and that working with others facilitates an open mind to finding alternative approaches to solving problems.

Through the program, Scholars establish connections and mentor/mentee relationships as they continuously learn about teamwork and bonding. Nathan Cooper notes the professional aspect of these benefits, saying, "We are building the teamwork and communication skills needed to form connections in the future." However, there is also an important social benefit for making friends. Hinkel said, "We were able to move in early because of the program, which gave us extra time to get to know each other. It was nice having a large friend group starting the semester."

Looking forward, the students have amazing goals in mind. One outstanding goal is that of Cathy Cooper, who said, "I look forward to being professionally and personally ready to challenge myself creatively."

She intends to build a platform for herself that would allow her to improve the Liberian healthcare system by creating a brand of hospitals. The innovation and supportive nature of the Graham Scholars program offers an exciting path for motivated students to gain creative confidence and an excellent way to bring new methods to higher education.

Learn more about the program and how to apply: http://www.ycp.edu/academics/graham-innovation-scholars/graham-application/.